The Bush Administration's War on Labor





Mr. Rees is Associate Professor of History, Colorado State University - Pueblo.

On the morning of April 20th, 1914, near Ludlow, Colorado, the Colorado National Guard used machine guns to attack a tent colony made up mostly of striking coal miners' families. Later, someone set fire to the tents.

At least 25 people died that day, including 11 children. Many of the children suffocated in a pit under a tent where they hid to escape the flames. The aptly named "Ludlow Massacre" remains one of the most violent incidents in American labor history.

This tragedy caused outrage throughout the world. It shined a spotlight on the difficult conditions miners faced in Colorado's coal camps -- low pay and poor mine safety to name just two. It also helped bring public attention to similar labor problems throughout the United States.

The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, which employed most of the striking miners, changed its entire labor policy to prevent the need for military intervention in subsequent labor disputes. Indeed, efforts to blame the tragedy on John D. Rockefeller, the renowned industrialist whose family owned most of the company at this time, almost single-handedly ruined the family's reputation and made this incident even more famous.

On Memorial Day, 1918, the United Mine Workers union dedicated a monument to the victims of that tent colony. It is located approximately 75 miles south of Pueblo, Colorado, near the site of the pit where many of the victims died. It stood for almost 85 years without incident.

Some time between the evening of May 7, 2003 and the next morning, someone or some people vandalized the granite statues of a coal miner and his wife at the base of the memorial. Vandalized is actually too mild a word for what happened. Somebody decapitated them - took their heads clean off. The arm of one statue is also missing, as well as a small vase that sat in a corner of the monument.

Had someone desecrated a war memorial in this manner, there would have been a huge outcry. However, since the vandals struck a worker's monument, there has hardly been a ripple. Newspapers in Pueblo and in Denver covered the incident briefly, inside their local news sections. Other than the History News Network, I know of no national coverage of the incident at all. The best story I've seen was in the Colorado Springs Independent, a local alternative weekly. (This article also includes information if you want to donate towards the restoration of the monument.)

A likely reason for this lack of interest is that few Americans, even Colorado residents, know what happened at Ludlow. I polled my survey classes and of 75 students (most of whom grew up in Southern Colorado), only four of them had even heard of it. This is because labor history is seldom taught in secondary schools, even if it happened in your own back yard.

Sadly, people in other countries appreciate this aspect of American history better than we do. One historian, writing about the vandalism on the discussion network H-Labor, recalled reading the guest book at the memorial during her visit in 1985: "People from all over the world had stopped at Ludlow, even though few high school students in the US had ever heard of it. Those people from so many other countries knew about it and had taken a special effort to get to the site."

However, people should understand this as much more than a curriculum issue. Ignorance of labor history simplifies the Bush administration's efforts to destroy achievements that took the labor movement decades to win. For example, proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 would cause 2.7 million workers -- reclassified as exempt professionals -- to lose their right to overtime pay even though their jobs and wages would stay the same.

The Denver Post, in a rare article that considers the administration's war against labor in its entirety, offers many more examples of "Significant changes in labor law made by President Bush." These include: "Stopped action on 29 worker-safety regulations;" and "Required federal contractors to post signs telling workers that they did not have to join unions. Signs do not tell workers they can join unions if they desire."

My favorite from the Post's list: "Abolished the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly report documenting plant closings and layoffs of more than 50 workers at any workplace." That pretty much sums up the Bush administration's attitude towards workers' rights right there. If they don't recognize what's happening to them, they won't complain.

While some media outlets are beginning to wake up to the war on labor today, understanding labor's past would help students put labor's present in context. They would recognize that years of struggle went into getting the Fair Labor Standards Act passed, and they would be outraged, as the journalist Greg Palast explains, that wholesale changes to it are being made without fanfare on page 15,576 of the Federal Register.

Students should understand what life was like in the American workplace before workers' protections instituted during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal as President Bush aims toward the elimination of these rights. I half expect the return of legal child labor to come any day now.

Joe Conason, in the introduction to his new book, Big Lies, writes, "If your workplace is safe; if your children go to school rather than being forced into labor; if you are paid a living wage, including overtime; if you enjoy a forty-hour week and you are allowed to join a union to protect your rights-you can thank liberals." This is part of a longer passage that has already received a fair share of ridicule from right-wing critics on the Internet.

If these authors had learned anything about the Ludlow Massacre in school they might have known that Conason is absolutely right. The men, women and children who died at Ludlow sacrificed their lives for the good of every American, just like the soldiers who have fought in our country's wars. Their memory, like their monument, deserves our respect and our pedagogical attention.


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William J. Stepp - 9/15/2003

You may be a good historian, but as an economist you don't quite
cut the mustard. You state that "most people's medical care is subsidized by their employers (and, therefore, by their customers). This is not so because an employees's compensation includes wages, commissions, etc. *and* benefits (e.g., medical care premiums and other medical reimbusements, disability insurance premiums, retirement plan contributions, etc.). A firm's customers pay revenue for the goods and services they buy, which is used to pay the firm's costs, including all its employees' compensation. Therefore, a company's customers do not subsidize any of a firm's costs, including compensation to its workers. The term subsidy should be used only to describe a payment from a government to someone outside the government, in the private sector.
A government obviously doesn't subsidize itself, as it relies on taxation, fees, and inflation to gain its revenue.
Second, your statement that teachers are underpaid at all levels is based on pure whim, not on economic logic. Teachers in the private sector earn their discounted marginal value product. Public sector teachers are on the receiving end of subsidies extracted by coercive force from taxpayers, so we must conclude that they are worth nothing. See Murray N. Rothbard, "The Fallacy of the Public Sector," in his classic collection of libertarian essays, _Egalitarianism as a Revolt against Nature and other Essays, 2nd ed., available from http://www.mises.org.


John Moser - 9/10/2003

"Professor Rees continues: 'A likely reason for this lack of interest is that few Americans, even Colorado residents, know what happened at Ludlow. I polled my survey classes and of 75 students (most of whom grew up in Southern Colorado), only four of them had even heard of it. This is because labor history is seldom taught in secondary schools, even if it happened in your own back yard.'

"Quite possibly true, given how the focus in most state school systems is on social studies more than history."

Indeed. Recall the recent statistics showing that most entering college freshmen can't identify the decade in which the Civil War took place. Why should we surprised at any instance of students not knowing of a particular historical event?


Charles V. Mutschler - 9/9/2003

Josh Greenalnd writes: "Jon Rees didn't explicitly or implicitly write that the vandalism to the statues was perpetrated with anti-labor intentions. Your refutation of this non-existent thesis is a straw man argument."

I disagree, Mr. Greenland. Take a look at the following three paragraphs from Professor Rees' essay. Perhaps you don't draw any inference from his words, but I think a strong case can be made that he is, indeed suggesting that the vandalism is: (1) Anti labor, in part due to (2) a lack of teaching labor history in the schools of the state. Professor Rees also decries the lack of attention to the vandalism from major area newspapers, again suggesting the lack of appropriate education, and the fact that so few students polled knew anything about Ludlow.

Professor Rees wrote: "Some time between the evening of May 7, 2003 and the next morning, someone or some people vandalized the granite statues of a coal miner and his wife at the base of the memorial. Vandalized is actually too mild a word for what happened. Somebody decapitated them - took their heads clean off. The arm of one statue is also missing, as well as a small vase that sat in a corner of the monument."

Right off the top, Mr. Rees views this as exceeding mere vandalism. However, I suspect that it might be interesting to talk to some members of cemetary associations who try to care for rural cemetaries, or the relatives of people buried in now abandoned cemetaries about vandalism. Tales of angels being decapitated, gravestones toppled and smashed, or shot up by people with firearms, and other destruction are actually rather common. In other words, I don't think the vandalism to the Ludlow monument is as atypical as you and Professor Rees do. Is is distressing? Yes. But is it related to being a labor site? I doubt it. Just idiots smashing stuff - mindless vandalism strikes me as a good term for it.

Professor Rees wrote: "Had someone desecrated a war memorial in this manner, there would have been a huge outcry. However, since the vandals struck a worker's monument, there has hardly been a ripple. Newspapers in Pueblo and in Denver covered the incident briefly, inside their local news sections. Other than the History News Network, I know of no national coverage of the incident at all. The best story I've seen was in the Colorado Springs Independent, a local alternative weekly. (This article also includes information if you want to donate towards the restoration of the monument.)"

Unfortunately, this isn't likely to be big news to folks in Denver, or Colorado Springs because it happened in a rural area. Ludlow is not much more than a few buildings and a sign board now. Graveyard vandalism, and the destruction of historic sites doesn't get much ink in the papers unless someone in the historical community is successful in calling it to the attention of the media. Professor Rees tried to publicize this case, and I applaud him for his effort. Unfortunately, vandalism of historic sites, especially those many miles away in the country, generally doesn't get much coverage by metropolitan media. Is this due to lack of a historical consciouness about labor history, or because media types think that vandalism is a low level news story compared to other events? I got the impression from Mr. Rees' article that he thinks that the media lack sufficient understanding of the importance of Ludlow.

Professor Rees continues: "A likely reason for this lack of interest is that few Americans, even Colorado residents, know what happened at Ludlow. I polled my survey classes and of 75 students (most of whom grew up in Southern Colorado), only four of them had even heard of it. This is because labor history is seldom taught in secondary schools, even if it happened in your own back yard. "

Quite possibly true, given how the focus in most state school systems is on social studies more than history. But I don't agree with Professor Rees' conclusion. I don't think teaching labor history in secondary school is going to prevent mindless vandalism any more than requiring the teaching of a cultural sensitivity course about etiquette in grave yards.

I think Mr. Rees is trying to argue that (1) teaching labor history will make secondary students less likely to vandalize monuments to labor history, and (2) that with better understanding of labor history, the public will see Presidednt Bush's policies as destructive to labor. I don't think he made either case particularly effectively. Your opinion may vary. (Obviously it differs from mine)

Cordially,

Charles V. Mutschler


Charles V. Mutschler - 9/9/2003

Josh Greenalnd writes: "Jon Rees didn't explicitly or implicitly write that the vandalism to the statues was perpetrated with anti-labor intentions. Your refutation of this non-existent thesis is a straw man argument."

I disagree, Mr. Greenland. Take a look at the following three paragraphs from Professor Rees' essay. Perhaps you don't draw any inference from his words, but I think a strong case can be made that he is, indeed suggesting that the vandalism is: (1) Anti labor, in part due to (2) a lack of teaching labor history in the schools of the state. Professor Rees also decries the lack of attention to the vandalism from major area newspapers, again suggesting the lack of appropriate education, and the fact that so few students polled knew anything about Ludlow.

Professor Rees wrote: "Some time between the evening of May 7, 2003 and the next morning, someone or some people vandalized the granite statues of a coal miner and his wife at the base of the memorial. Vandalized is actually too mild a word for what happened. Somebody decapitated them - took their heads clean off. The arm of one statue is also missing, as well as a small vase that sat in a corner of the monument."

Right off the top, Mr. Rees views this as exceeding mere vandalism. However, I suspect that it might be interesting to talk to some members of cemetary associations who try to care for rural cemetaries, or the relatives of people buried in now abandoned cemetaries about vandalism. Tales of angels being decapitated, gravestones toppled and smashed, or shot up by people with firearms, and other destruction are actually rather common. In other words, I don't think the vandalism to the Ludlow monument is as atypical as you and Professor Rees do. Is is distressing? Yes. But is it related to being a labor site? I doubt it. Just idiots smashing stuff - mindless vandalism strikes me as a good term for it.

Professor Rees wrote: "Had someone desecrated a war memorial in this manner, there would have been a huge outcry. However, since the vandals struck a worker's monument, there has hardly been a ripple. Newspapers in Pueblo and in Denver covered the incident briefly, inside their local news sections. Other than the History News Network, I know of no national coverage of the incident at all. The best story I've seen was in the Colorado Springs Independent, a local alternative weekly. (This article also includes information if you want to donate towards the restoration of the monument.)"

Unfortunately, this isn't likely to be big news to folks in Denver, or Colorado Springs because it happened in a rural area. Ludlow is not much more than a few buildings and a sign board now. Graveyard vandalism, and the destruction of historic sites doesn't get much ink in the papers unless someone in the historical community is successful in calling it to the attention of the media. Professor Rees tried to publicize this case, and I applaud him for his effort. Unfortunately, vandalism of historic sites, especially those many miles away in the country, generally doesn't get much coverage by metropolitan media. Is this due to lack of a historical consciouness about labor history, or because media types think that vandalism is a low level news story compared to other events? I got the impression from Mr. Rees' article that he thinks that the media lack sufficient understanding of the importance of Ludlow.

Professor Rees continues: "A likely reason for this lack of interest is that few Americans, even Colorado residents, know what happened at Ludlow. I polled my survey classes and of 75 students (most of whom grew up in Southern Colorado), only four of them had even heard of it. This is because labor history is seldom taught in secondary schools, even if it happened in your own back yard. "

Quite possibly true, given how the focus in most state school systems is on social studies more than history. But I don't agree with Professor Rees' conclusion. I don't think teaching labor history in secondary school is going to prevent mindless vandalism any more than requiring the teaching of a cultural sensitivity course about etiquette in grave yards.

I think Mr. Rees is trying to argue that (1) teaching labor history will make secondary students less likely to vandalize monuments to labor history, and (2) that with better understanding of labor history, the public will see Presidednt Bush's policies as destructive to labor. I don't think he made either case particularly effectively. Your opinion may vary. (Obviously it differs from mine)

Cordially,

Charles V. Mutschler


Josh Greenland - 9/9/2003

Jon Rees didn't explicitly or implicitly write that the vandalism to the statues was perpetrated with anti-labor intentions. Your refutation of this non-existent thesis is a straw man argument.


Bill Heuisler - 9/8/2003

Professor,
Teachers and Professors are much higher in my professional and personal esteem than politicians could ever be. You see I've been a politician - in one form or another - for years. Politicians tend to the middle...the soft word. My history has been much more radical and thus less distinguished, but my low opinions have been strengthened in spite of many friendships.
Our discussion really has little to do with politicians. My concern about PE Unions has more to do with collateral victims like taxpayers and students.

My condolences on your Hobson's choice. My opinion? In spite of your rhetoric, you will ultimately make the principled choice.
Bill


Charles V. Mutschler - 9/8/2003

Professor Rees spent half his column discussing the Ludlow massacre, and the desecration of the monument at the site, but I don't think he has provided any evidence that really demonstrates his thesis. I suspect that the destruction of the monument was simply one more act of mindless vandalism which has claimed many grave markers and structures at ghost towns and areas with a small, scattered population throughout the west. It isn't just a rural problem, of course, as many owners of historic properties in cities and towns can attest to the cost of dealing with the damage caused by spray paint taggers, window smashers, and the like.

Is there any evidence of anti-labor sentiment, or is this just more mindless destructive activity in a place with few people?

Charles V. Mutschler


Jonathan Dresner - 9/8/2003

Mr. Heuisler,

One remaining misunderstanding, a thought, and an experiment.

Clarification: Some public employees are constrained from using strikes; some are not. Clearly the elected legislators and administrative officials you hold in such esteem do not consider teacher strikes to be sufficiently harmful to enjoin against them. Like lobbyists and citizen action groups, teacher unions operate within the law.

Thought: It struck me, after our last exchange, that there are governments which forbid union organizations, along with other forms of free association: Totalitarian regimes, particularly fascist and communist ones. I'm sure you wouldn't want to find yourself in that camp, but if we weaken and eliminate citizen and worker organizations, corporations and governments will trample us.

Testing the Theory: In a few months (January, to be exact) I may have to make a decision about whether to accept shrinking real wages or strike. This is not a theoretical discussion for me. I believe you are fundamentally wrong about the effects of a teacher union strike on public opinion and politics. I certainly hope so, and I am prepared to test that theory if it seems necessary.


Bill Heuisler - 9/8/2003

Professor,
No misunderstandings any more. Lobbying and activist groups must operate under laws enacted by elected Legislatures. Your other examples are groups that break the enacted laws - cheat, lie and murder for personal gain. Not very good company for College Professors who decide on "educational" grounds that depriving innocent students of their education is justifiable financial rectification while public employee strikes are in clear contradiction to most laws and court decisions of the land.

Incidently, I have great respect for most of the Professors in my sphere of endeavor and I've gained a like respect for you after a year of reading your well-written words and opinions. That's the reason for my strong objections to highly educated, well paid professionals treating themselves as victims while creating other victims. You will, I fear, reap the whirlwind of politics, student contempt and public ridicule for little gain.
Bill Heuisler


Jonathan Dresner - 9/8/2003

Mr. Heuisler asked for "just one example of a citizen's group that placed itself above our participatory democracy because of its importance." It's not rare, it's ubiquitous. Every lobbying group, every activist group, every corporation and individual that dodges taxes sees their issue (or money) as more important that respecting the transitory results of partipatory republican democracy. To take a recently relevant example, Florida just executed a man who decided on religious grounds that murdering an abortion doctor and his bodyguard was "justifiable homicide" in clear contradiction to the laws and court decisions of the land.

And by the way, don't assume that "more or less" is just a specific charge (though it was that, too). I have grave concerns about the fundamental legitimacy of any election in which fewer than half the eligble voters, much less affected parties, participate.


Bill Heuisler - 9/7/2003

Professor,
You said:
Teachers are too honorable to money-grub - and need unions.
It's student's fault if they don't learn - not their teachers.
And Professors are too important to be restrained by the rules the rest of us have to follow.

There's no misread here.
You say: "your assumption union=unmotivated workers..."
That's not my assumption...it's yours. Read your own damn words.

"Teachers are underpaid because a great many of them see themselves as public servants, so they are generally willing to accept lower pay for their work than it would command in the private sector. If it were not for union-led negotiations, I think teachers would be paid even less, have little or no job security, and would flee the profession in even larger droves than they do now."
"Willing to accept" right? In your words professor, teachers are either sheep for free-market slaughter or they're better than the union process. Private school teachers are paid twenty percent less than public...look it up. And BTW public school teachers are supposed to be public servants. Unions are for the powerless. Teachers, Doctors, Lawyers...professors all should have higher standards and higher professional ethics than to organize and coerce people to pay them more through blackmail.

You say:
"Student learning is a function of many things, not the least of which is the desire of the student to learn. I think unions have little or no influence on learning outcomes, though I'm certainly open to evidence to the contrary." Evidence is how those professor-picket-lines inspire penniless undergrads to respect what those advanced degrees can really mean.

You said:
"...taken to its logical extreme, all forms of citizen groups would be illegitimate under this theory. Just because someone won an election (more or less) doesn't confer on them special wisdom or knowledge of the will of the people. The essence of participatory democracy is participation, and that doesn't stop at the ballot box." And I asked for one -just one - example of a citizen's group that placed itself above our participatory democracy because of its importance. Just one, professor.

If this is too difficult, just say so, but don't insult me by feigned anger over misunderstandings. Nothing was misunderstood by you or by me. And your "more or less" comment was received in the spirit it was intended.
Bill Heuisler


Jonathan Dresner - 9/7/2003

Mr. Heuisler,

I am not going to respond directly to your last post because it is largely based on deliberate misreadings of my comments. Your assumption that unions=unmotivated workers is unfounded and insulting. You misread my comments on student learning: I never said or even implied that teachers cannot influence student learning, but that the "failure" (and I do problematize that deliberately) of education in this country cannot be explained simply by blaming teacher unions. Your second paragraph must have a point, but I certainly can't see it. And your third paragraph accuses me, by implication, of lacking dignity and ability.

That's no way to have a civil disagreement.


Bill Heuisler - 9/7/2003

Professor Dresner,
You've rebutted me with reductio ad absurdum in high gear after first throwing it in reverse. Both directions broke down.

First reverse. You say the failure of teacher unions for fifty years can be rectified by more unions (no evidence) and propose the desirability of less-dedicated teachers. So, if unions could just convince conscientious teachers that they aren't really public servants - and that teacher strikes really don't hurt society and students - things would be better? Really? Unions don't affect learning-outcomes? Of course they do. You say student learning is based on the desire of the student to learn and then somehow absolve teachers of the duty to inspire desire. Appalling. How do you think a dedicated in-debt-to-his-ears student feels when he sees his distinguished professors publicly grubbing for bucks and threatening to break faith with him over benefits. Inspiring? You know better.

Ad absurdium goes in high gear with words like logical extremes. There's nothing logical about extremes in any direction, but to compare a collective union of pampered, highly paid, highly educated, professors with "all forms of citizen groups" is nonsense. Please name one comparison during the Revolutionary period, World War II, referenced in the Saturday Evening Post or the Federalist Papers. There is no such group of citizens that has held itself more important than representative government.

When you chose your revered profession you should have been both challenged and assured you would be rewarded by, and for, effort and production. Imposition of a false equalizers to protect and elevate the lesser qualified is both gift and insult to men and women who should welcome neither. Is dignity old fashioned?
Bill Heuisler


Jonathan Dresner - 9/7/2003

Mr. Heuisler asks: "1) After fifty years of teacher's Unions, why are teachers still underpaid? Why are students nationwide receiving less education?"

Those are very different questions, I think. Teachers are underpaid because a great many of them see themselves as public servants, so they are generally willing to accept lower pay for their work than it would command in the private sector. If it were not for union-led negotiations, I think teachers would be paid even less, have little or no job security, and would flee the profession in even larger droves than they do now.

Student learning is a function of many things, not the least of which is the desire of the student to learn. I think unions have little or no influence on learning outcomes, though I'm certainly open to evidence to the contrary.

"2) Politicians and Legislators speak for our republican form of government. Who are you professors (collectively) to "rectify" representative government through coercion? Why not contracts?"

Again, taken to its logical extreme, all forms of citizen groups would be illegitimate under this theory. Just because someone won an election (more or less) doesn't confer on them special wisdom or knowledge of the will of the people. The essence of participatory democracy is participation, and that doesn't stop at the ballot box.

Teacher strikes usually occur only under very carefully controlled conditions: when a current contract has expired. At that point, there is no binding obligation to keep working without a valid contract, and there is nothing illegitimate about negotiating as a group for an improved contract.

Finally, I'd like to say that one of the few things harder than a teacher deciding to go on strike would be a police officer (or medical worker or rescue personnel, I suppose). It's a painful process. But in university settings, at least, many teachers try to work around strikes to avoid penalizing the students while demonstrating their resolve. It's not a decision taken lightly, but it is remarkable how much public support there usually is for teachers when they are pushed to the limit.


Bill Heuisler - 9/7/2003

Professor Dresner,
Having enjoyed other discussions with you, my initial smile died slowly until your denouement where it became a puzzled frown.
You said:
"Given the importance of education, there is no doubt in my mind that teachers are underpaid at all levels, and if it is necessary to band together to rectify that, because politicians and legislators are too short-sighted to do it themselves, then that is what I will do. The temporary disruption of services to students is, I believe, offset by the lesson in civic responsibility, economic reality, and the future improvement in the quality of education..."

Three pretty rash assumptions. Three obvious mistakes.
1) After fifty years of teacher's Unions, why are teachers still underpaid? Why are students nationwide receiving less education?

2) Politicians and Legislators speak for our republican form of government. Who are you professors (collectively) to "rectify" representative government through coercion? Why not contracts?

3) Lastly, you're correct. I believe nobody should be forced to pay for anything they don't either benefit from or choose, and nobody should have the right to anything they don't individually negotiate - other than those Constitutional Rights all enjoy.
Bill Heuisler


Jonathan Dresner - 9/6/2003

Mr. Heuisler,

Carrying your logic to its natural conclusion, nobody should have to pay for anything they don't directly benefit from and nobody should have the right to anything they don't individually negotiate. You even suggest that most people pay for their own medical care, which is absurd: most people's medical care is subsidized by their employers (and therefore, by their customers)

The exception, in your case, being that police and military (both groups to which you have belonged if I understand correctly) should get benefits like medical care and automatic pay increases because of their self-sacrifice. Do you think that is the only form of self-sacrifice and service in the world? I'd be a terrible Marine, but I'm a pretty good historian and teacher and take those responsibilities very seriously. I've had other career paths available to me, but I believe in the importance of what I do and that it is a form of public service whether I was teaching at a "private" or "public" institution.

Given the importance of education, there is no doubt in my mind that teachers are underpaid at all levels, and if it is necessary to band together to rectify that, because politicians and legislators are too short-sighted to do it themselves, then that is what I will do. The temporary disruption of services to students is, I believe, offset by the lesson in civic responsibility, economic reality, and the future improvement in the quality of education as more qualified individuals are retained in the field.


Bill Heuisler - 9/5/2003

Derek,
This article is about Unions. Your "huge" number of Unionized State Employees is bad news for your State and its taxpayers. But the Marine Corps is not unionized and most Fire and Police collective bargaining agreements forbid strikes. Including either group in this argument illustrates either bad faith or a loose grasp on current events.

Benefits? Perhaps you're unfamiliar with the Armed Services, but Marines live in barracks and are sent all over the world where there might not be doctors. Our Army and Navy have medical staffs. When a cop is hurt, his city usually covers his doctor bills. Marine or Cop salaries are pittances next to University Professors. Marines and cops put their lives on the line for you; why should their taxes subsidize your medical bills?
Can't you pay your own bills the way most civilians do?

This year U of A Professor salaries were increased 20% or more and tuition was increased $1000. The AZ Constitution says State residents must be educated as cheaply as possible. Make sense? Taxes and tuition increases subsidize inflating salaries to keep all you professors "competitive" according to U of A. You guys are being carried by Joe and his kids - who can no longer afford their State Colleges. How can you even contemplate withholding services - breaching implied contracts with blameless students? Damage? Do you believe in secondary boycotts or assembly-line sabotage? What's the difference?

Free-Market textbooks, my foot. Many texts are changed in minor ways every few years - sometimes only a few words and chapter headings. Students are compelled to buy a "new" version instead of an addendum. There's no free market here. The course text is prescribed by the teacher and students are forced to buy. Why do professors go along with this? Some people hint at kickbacks. And, while you're surely not guilty, you probably know it happens. Finally, don't expect sympathy from your townie community if you go on strike. They already feel cheated.
Bill


Dave Thomas - 9/5/2003

What gives Americans the right to the standard of living we enjoy? HOw will American labor protect the standard of living their membership enjoys? By using protectionist legislation to keep the rest of the world impoverished. Why does a Guatamalan have to live in poverty while a worker in Detroit lives in a SFD in a nice suburb? There is no defensible logic. In an era of global competition and free trade America has to see its standard of living decrease. This is not because of multi-national corporations. This is because colonialism and economic racism have left the majority of the non-western world in abject poverty for centuries. If labor wants to say it is protecting the American that is absolutely true. If labor wants to say it is doing the just and righteous thing it is using despicable, hypocritical rhetoric.


John Moser - 9/5/2003

Does it matter to anyone that the title of this essay is "The Bush Administration's War on Labor," but less than half of it has anything to do with the Bush Administration? Is the author trying to suggest that by pursuing anti-union policies (which must of course be distinguished from anti-labor policies) the president is engaged in the moral equivalent of murdering coal miners in Ludlow, and vandalizing memorials to such events? If so, this is truly a low blow.


Derek Catsam - 9/5/2003

Why should taxpayers pay for my health insurance? Well first, let's clear up this misconception you have about state universities -- less than 50% of our funding comes from the state, so we are state assisted but certainly not wholly state subsidized. But beyond that, we may have differing philosophies about health care and insurance, but I think every one should have insurance from their employers. But at a more basic level, they should pay for it because it is standard fare in academia -- if my state wants to be competitive they will pay for benefits because it is in their interest. But beyond that, those of us who are state employees also pay taxes. And the number of people who are state employees is rather huge. So WE are Joe Sixpack. (By the way, when you were a cop or in the military [Was it a private military Bill? Private police force?] did you have health insurance or other benefits? Or since you are so opposed to "putting it on the taxpayer" you must have refused such benefits. Or is that avaricious hypocrisy I hear pealing from the arid lonesome west?)

As for students being punished, I am not certain who you think would be punishing them. As I said, I think we all see striking as a court of last resort. We certainly don't want to, and concern for our students would be first and foremost in our minds. If a long strike were to ensue, one would think that the university, the ones who take students money, would be the ones to pay the students back. If not, they would be punishing the students, not us. In any case, I have no interest in or desire to strike. But I do think that employees can get a whole lot more negotiating as a group than as individuals.

I'll ignore the rather hamhanded and dopey analogies about firemen and surgeons. For one, there are laws about who can and can't strike and what an essential service is. (Remember the air traffic controllers?) For someone so snide and snotty and dismissive of academia and academics, though, your elevating my job to that of a surgeon is something I appreciate.

As for negotiating based on my indicvidual worth, that is precisely the point of a union -- individuals standing up against institutions is rather difficult, and so why you have a problemn with people getting together to get themselves the best deal is beyond me.

You are simply factually wrong about the purpose of unions, by the way. The first unions in the US were in fact trade unions for skilled craft workers and the like. It was only in the 1860s and beyond that "the powerless" (funny how purple prose is fine when you use it to bolster your argument. I half expected to read "the struggle for workers rights") organized, and in fact the first national labor union was for both professionals and the working classes.

Finally, I don't drink coffee, so I don't have a dog in that fight. We'd all love smaller class sizes, but that is something that demonstrably is to the benefit of students, and a piece of the textbook action is what the authors of textbooks get. Who else would, other than the publishers. That little bit of reductio ad absurdum on your part doesn't even make sense. As for me, I find the whole textbook industry a bit appalling. But you're the big free marketeer here, so you should love that little slice of capitalism at work.

Finally, let me get this straight -- it's demeaning for a professor to be part of a union, but it is not demeaning for, say, a plumber to be? Rather elitist if you ask me.


Bill Heuisler - 9/5/2003

Derek,
"...the point of a strike -- to hit where damage will be felt?"
Pretty cold for a professional whose income is twenty percent or more above your state median income. On what paper is it written that joe sixpack should provide you with medical insurance? Some housepainter or carpenter should subsidize your doctor bills? Why should a student living at the poverty level - in debt for years to finance an education - be punished for a decision he has nothing to do with? What if surgeons struck in the operating room? Firemen quit in the middle of a fire? Damage felt? You bet.

Want a contract? Negotiate on the strength of your individual value to the University. If the University breaks the contract you have legal recourse. Why put it on the taxpayer? Professor's unions sound like overkill to me and a little demeaning to men and women with advanced degrees. Do you guys demand limits on class size? Specific coffee breaks? A piece of the textbook action? Unions were originally formed to give strength to the powerless, not to help the elite work the system.
Bill Heuisler


Derek Catsam - 9/4/2003

All good points and well taken. The question you pose about whether or not I would strike of course depends on the issue. If the state university system decided to balance the budget by getting rid of all public employee health benefits? You're damned right I would. The state doesn't have the right to balance its budget -- to make up for its previous cockups -- on the backs of the people who work for it. And might students be victims? Sure. But is that not part of the point of a strike -- to hit where damage will be felt? The argument might well be that the state system is hurting the students by putting faculty in an untenable situation. Most unions do not blithely take the step to strike. We are in the midst of a huge controversy here -- I don't think I am at liberty to get into details but trust me when I say it is an issue that cuts to the heart of academia -- but we have heated meetings about whether to send striongly worded m,essages to the administration! A strike is your nuclear arsenal -- you use it as a threat and hope it never comes to that. Its deterrence.


Bill Heuisler - 9/4/2003

Derek,
My objection is to public employee Unions. When I was a Tucson cop in the early seventies the FOP called a strike because there was disagreement on the yearly contract. Half the Department got the blue flu, the rest of us worked double shifts to protect the public. Talk about gut wrenching. Friendships of many years ended and the cop camraderie was never quite the same, but the issue was clear as a bell to me. When the right to unionize conflicts with the public good the choice is simple.

Let me ask you: Were your union to call a strike do you think coercing the college by denying students their education meets the same moral guideline as coercing the owner of a mine to pay more by refusing to dig his coal? Were I a Nineteenth Century miner I would be a Union Organizer, but the moral culpability involved in holding the public ransom for higher pay from government for a voluntary public position cannot be denied.
Bill


Derek Catsam - 9/4/2003

Bill --
I am curious what you think of this. I sometimes stand on the fence about unions -- I think that the idea of them is good, but internally there is a great deal of corruption and coercion. That said, however, what if the argument runs this way -- unions are supposed to be democracies. Once a group of workers vote to unionize, then anyone who joins in will reap the benefits, and thus must pay the dues of membership that the majority have decided are necessary. Thus the majority in the given community -- the union in this case -- have made a decision. If you want to work in that community, you abide by it. i realize that in reality this may not always work, but in theory it does -- you shouldn't have the right to a free ride on the backs of the work others have done. It's akin to your argument about conscientious objectors, I guess -- people may in theory have the right to opt out, but then does that impact the claims that they can make from those who did make sacrifices? As I said, I'm not ardent about this. We're unionized here at MSU, and the difference in "dues" between members and nonmembers is not great, but the base that everyone pays might be problematic to those who are not members. The overwhelming majority, however, are members, and so everyone gets the benefits of what our faculty organization procures for us. I'm pro-union, I suppose, though I don't lump myself in with what I like to call "real" labor unions.
dc


Bill Heuisler - 9/4/2003

Mr. Perkins,
Citing freedom twice does not address the problem when Unions join with Government to coerce dues. Insisting on the freedom to join, but relieving unions the responsibility for their own rules, misses the point and engages in nonsense. Unions form their own laws. They should never be allowed to restrict free association, especially when the Union laws become part of the law - see the TUSD article. Look up Right to Work Laws.

As to your attempt at cunning dialectic: "Private organizations often exist only to make money. The greedy SOBs..." pretty well sums up an ignorance of Capitalism and animus toward the free system you pretend to defend.
Bill Heuisler


Garry Perkins - 9/3/2003

We do still live in a free country. Americans are free to belong to unions, or not. If one accepts a job with complicated union rules, he needs to follow those rules. Both the private and public sectors have too many of these, but that has little to do with unions. Bureaucracy may be like the mafia, but unions are not.

As for critical public sector strikes, Americans are free to engage in them. Air traffic controllers tried it once. I do not think many fire or police departments will follow their example.

As for your last remark, yes, unions are all about money. This may surprise you, but people actively seek out a better standard of living. Private organizations often exist only to make money. The greedy SOBs even sell small shares to others to raise more capital to make more money. Unions are organized to get more money for their members, and they work. This system is called capitalism. Most of American like it. I am rather surprised that you do not.


Garry Perkins - 9/3/2003

Your first comment is the most powerful. The STATE killed those people. The key to labor rights (as well as all others) is protection from government control. Taft Hartley is another example of senseless government intervention against free people.

What I do not understand is why so-called labor advocates seem to only want to get their oppressor on their side. Why not work to free unions from government control?


Dave Tabaska - 9/3/2003

"The Denver Post, in a rare article that considers the administration's war against labor in its entirety, offers many more examples of 'Significant changes in labor law made by President Bush.' These include: ... 'Required federal contractors to post signs telling workers that they did not have to join unions. Signs do not tell workers they can join unions if they desire.'"

I'm curious as to how telling workers that they are free to associate or not associate with a group is somehow a war against labor. Unless there is some specific Federal law actually requiring contractors to actually be unionized, then what is the problem? I somehow doubt the unions will be willing to tell them that they're not required to join up (a labor war against Bush?). When I first started working for the Feds 16 years ago, it was made perfectly clear to me that I was under no obligation to pay union dues. Does the passing of such information constitute evidence of a Reagan-era war against labor?

The statement smacks too much of a "full disclosure = ignorance" type of Newspeak.


David Hulbert - 9/3/2003

I'll have to confess I myself was ignorant of the 'Ludlow Massacre',though I knew of similar attacks during Labor's early struggles.Count me as one who also regards the vandalism of the monument as despicable.

Bush's Labor Day speech yesterday proclaimed an optimistic future even though 700,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector in the last year.He emphasized that his tax cuts to the workers will keep things from getting worse.

Yes-but what kind of jobs are the workers supposed to provide?Isn't the gargantuan tax cut all about job creation?


Bill Heuisler - 9/2/2003

Mr. Rees,
Labor Unions have been perverted since their utility has been subsumed by the rise of small business and the mddle class.
The largest block of unionized workers in the US is government workers who tend to receive higher pay than the average Joe.

The Arizona Daily Star published a local story today that speaks volumes about Twenty-First Century Unions:
"At least 105 blue-collar TUSD employees have filed paperwork to leave their bargaining unit, but the union may not let them go.
That would leave the workers to pay dues - about $25 a month - for another year and the school district powerless to intervene.
The blue-collar employees gave written notice to the local AFSCME office stating they want to resign from the union. The workers include bus drivers, monitors, custodians and other classified employees.
Tucson Unified School District employees may withdraw from AFSCME, the organization that is intended to represent blue-collar workers, only between Aug. 15 and Aug. 30. But the union will only accept written resignations delivered in person, said director Ray Figueroa."

Sounds like the Mafia, pay your dues or else.

Are Public Employee Unions moral? P. E. strikes hold the public at ransom to force Mayors, Councils etc. to raise wages. Imagine a City Police or City Fire strike for higher wages. Does the strike coerce those who will pay, or those who extract the money from others? Do Police ignore home invasions for a few dollars? Firemen ignore home fires? Of course not. The purpose of P. E. Unions is money...our money distributed for dues and votes.
Bill Heuisler


William J. Stepp - 9/1/2003

As a libertarian and defender of anarcho-capitalism, let me point out that the perpetrator of the Ludlow massacre, the State of Colorado, just happens to be the same institution that employees Mr. Rees.
Second, the 2nd Bush Reich is indeed anti labor becuase it has failed to even think about repealing statist laws that are anti business (and therefore anti worker), such as minimum wage laws, the Wagner Act, the Taft Hartley Act, as well as the whole gamut of taxes that undermine investment in capital goods. Contrary to the assertion above, 2nd BushReich is firmly in the mold of the fascist New Deal, and I predict that not one page of the fascist Federal Register will be repealed by the time Shrub is mercifully retired, hopefully in 2005.
Why shouldn't children have the right to work if they want to?
How are they better off by having their options restricted by the state? Are they *all* really better off by being forced to go to the State's indocrination machines, i.e., the public schools? Joe Conason's passage quoted above utterly fails to understand that it was capitalism and the growth of the market, not "liberals" and Lochner-era and New Deal legislation, that led to the productivity gains which raised workers' standard of living.


Phikip L. Brocking - 9/1/2003

The article citing Bush's War On Labor reminds me of the heroic actions of Father Michael McGiveny, Founder of the Knights of Columbus who in the late l880's introduced Widows Insurance. This was a monumental event in that it was one of the precursors to later social insurance prorammes especially those enacted by the FDR Administration. Pope Leo X111 around l880 issued a teaching document Rerum Novarum (Rights of Labour )To Organize and in the l930's Pope Pius X1 reaffirmed this document (Quadgressim Anno) Forty Years later.When will the Republicans ever learn to cease their war on Labour? Prominent Catholics went upon the publication of Rerum Novarum went to Rome in an to
persuade Leo X111 to withdraw the Document. He refused.


Phikip L. Brocking - 9/1/2003

The article citing Bush's War On Labor reminds me of the heroic actions of Father Michael McGiveny, Founder of the Knights of Columbus who in the late l880's introduced Widows Insurance. This was a monumental event in that it was one of the precursors to later social insurance prorammes especially those enacted by the FDR Administration. Pope Leo X111 around l880 issued a teaching document Rerum Novarum (Rights of Labour )To Organize and in the l930's Pope Pius X1 reaffirmed this document (Quadgressim Anno) Forty Years later.When will the Republicans ever learn to cease their war on Labour? Prominent Catholics upon the publication of Rerum Novarum went to Rome in an attempt to have Pope Leo X111 withdraw Rerum Novarum.He refused.